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Johnson Brings Gospel Of Horsepower To JFR

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 21 2016
Horsepower-maker Alan Johnson helped make NHRA champions out of Del Worsham and Larry Dixon.

Horsepower-maker Alan Johnson helped make NHRA champions out of Del Worsham and Larry Dixon.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

This is how it typically turns out for Alan Johnson in his role as NHRA Top Fuel tuning guru: Johnson lays hands upon the blower of a nitromethane-burning Top Fuel dragster engine and says, “Thou shalt cover the 1,000-foot distance in 3.772-seconds at, say, 318.77 mph.  Got it? Amen.”

nhra logoWorked for Brittany Force on Sunday, March 20, during the final of the 47th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. Competing in her eighth final, Force defeated Terry McMillen at historic Gainesville Raceway in Florida to give Funny Car powerhouse John Force Racing its first Top Fuel Wally trophy.

Force, a daughter of 16-time Funny Car world champion John Force, became the sixth driver to claim a breakthrough victory with Johnson’s tuning assistance. That distinguished list includes Blaine Johnson, Alan’s late brother; Top Fuel and Funny Car world champion Gary Scelzi, Bruce Sarver, 2013 Top Fuel world champ Shawn Langdon and Khalid alBalooshi.

Downplaying his role in Brittany’s big moment, Johnson deferred to the talent of his latest protégé.

“Well, Brittany _ of all my drivers that I’ve had in the past _ is probably near the top as far as her passion to want to do this,” Johnson said. “She’s fully-committed to driving a dragster and winning. So that part makes it easy. There’s certainly things that she’s going to have to do and adapt to and buy into, but as long as she has that passion, which it appears that she does, it’s going to be…she’s going to end up being a great driver.”

Brittany’s first win went into the books in her 75th Top Fuel race. But even that relatively quick return on her father’s investment was overshadowed by Johnson’s lavish praise.

“That’s really huge,” Brittany, 29, said during a national teleconference previewing this weekend’s seventh annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C. “For him to say that on his side, that makes me feel great as a driver, makes me feel proud to work with him. I mean, obviously it was something I’ve been chasing for so long, and it felt good to finally accomplish that. Obviously we wouldn’t have made it there without him and (crew chief) Brian Husen and the entire

Top Fuel driver Brittany Force says Alan Johnson's effect on her team has been big.

Top Fuel driver Brittany Force says Alan Johnson’s effect on her team has been big.

team. It really is touching to hear him (Johnson) say something like that.

“There were so many times when I came so close, but if you don’t take it all home that day, you’re not the winner, you’re not the champ that day. Just no matter how many negative things come up, how many times you end up in a final, how many first rounds you drive, you just have to keep pushing, and one thing I’ve always been pretty good about is staying positive. We’ve had great days, we’ve had bad days, but to keep positive and to keep that momentum moving forward, and keep pushing for it because it’ll happen.”

Johnson’s stellar resume features 11 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world titles with five different drivers. But the Californian was forced to downsize his two-car team to one, with Langdon, prior to the 2015 season after his primary backer unexpectedly exited the sport. After completing a limited schedule, Johnson shut down the team prior to the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs and began a tuning consultancy with Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence and crew chief Richard Hogan on the Capco Contractors dragster.

Prior to this season, Force and Torrence created a strategic alliance with Johnson in a bid to increase each driver’s performance and consistency.

“You know, like I said about Brittany, it’s the passion that’s going to get her a long ways,” Johnson said. “Brittany has exceeded my expectations in her ability to drive and adapt to our procedures, which is certainly to my delight and everyone on the team.

“And Steve, as well; he’s passionate about it. It’s going to take some time to really be able to see each driver’s strengths and weaknesses as we go along here. We’re still pretty new (four of 24 races) into the season. I worked with Steve a little bit last year, and there’s some work that we need to do there to get him up to the level that he needs to be. But like I said, they’re both passionate drivers and they want to do this, so it makes my job a little bit easier.”

Johnson’s influence on Force extends into the cockpit of her Monster Energy dragster, where Brittany willingly has changed her entire routine. Force also has adopted a workout routine suggested by Johnson to help strengthen the muscles in her legs.

“Brittany’s workout program, the fact that she’s a woman and races against men, it’s not necessarily

Top Fueler Brittany Force is is being helped in and out of the cockpit by Alan Johnson techniques. (File photo courtesy of Elon Werner/John Force Racing)

Top Fueler Brittany Force is is being helped in and out of the cockpit by Alan Johnson techniques. (File photo courtesy of Elon Werner/John Force Racing)

a mental problem as much as it can be physical,” Johnson said, “because reaction for them is basically an explosion after they see the light, and they have to react. So our effort is just to make sure that she doesn’t have to give up anything to the guys. She started that program, which I think is going to help her. It will take time.

“And then the mental part of it is just a matter of her continuing to make all of her staging consistent from run-to-run, whether it’s qualifying or eliminations, so she doesn’t have to think of anything _ it’s just driving. So far it’s working well. But you know, it’s a long season and we plan to grow and get better.”

Force said Johnson’s biggest contribution has been orchestrating a string of consistent runs from the outset. “Definitely… we’ve all seen that in our team since coming out to Pomona,” said Force, the NHRA’s Rookie of the Year in 2013. “Even testing in Phoenix at the beginning of the year, I think we made about 12 passes, and the race car went down there every single run, just right down the racetrack.

“I think that’s been the biggest key and especially helping us to make it to the final, make it to the winner’s circle is just all those qualifying passes _ four qualifying passes, four great runs _ and signing us up for race day on Sunday.

“You know, there’s still going to be challenges. That’s not going to change. Really my focus is the same thing it always is: Doing my job as a driver, making sure I’m listening to the advice that Alan gives me, that Brian gives me, focusing on what we need to do together as a whole to get the car down the racetrack and turn those win lights on Sunday.”

Johnson said that in his role as consultant with Force and Torrence, he does not require the in-house crew chief to defer to his tuning calls.

“Not necessarily,” said Johnson, who dominated the Top Alcohol Dragster ranks with brother Blaine during the early 1990s. “We don’t have anything that cut-and-dry. It’s not structured that way. What we do is we meet with…we actually talk between races. We meet before we begin qualifying. We create kind of a roadmap to how we plan to address the weekend. There’s different track conditions everywhere we go, different air atmosphere conditions, so we review those things. We talk about it and we decide how we’re going to approach the weekend, and then we kind of go from there.

“After every run, we get together and decide what we’re going to change, how we’re going to adapt. But there’s no…certainly I would have probably the final say if there was some disagreement along the way somewhere, but generally we’re just keeping the ship headed in the right direction.”

Johnson said reuniting with Husen on Brittany’s car has been seamless. “Yeah. I mean, Brian worked for me back in probably 2001 on one of my Funny Cars back then,” Johnson said, “and then I rejoined them when I went to the U.S. Army team (with Tony Schumacher) in 2003, so we’ve been together ever since. He’s just a good, talented individual who loves the sport, and he’s committed to what he’s doing. We’ve done quite well together and I’m really excited to see how well he’s grown as a crew chief.”

In addition to his hands-on expertise, Johnson also incorporates an assortment of Alan Johnson Performance Engineering parts into each team’s hauler. Based in Santa Maria, Calif., AJPE manufactures a variety of specialty parts for Top Fuel dragsters.

“We certainly want to use those components because that’s what we’re used to,” Johnson said. “That’s what we’ve designed specifically for this type of racing, so that’s what we’re going to use. John Force’s program, they build a lot of the same parts for their Funny Cars, but they may not necessarily be designed for a Top Fuel dragster but more for a Funny Car. We’ve kind of pushed some of that stuff aside and come in with the products that we have designed. So both cars, Brittany’s and Steve’s, both have exactly the same engine components and clutch components.”

After a record 242 Funny Car victories for JFR, this was precisely the package team-owner Brute Force was seeking during the offseason for Brittany at the start of her fourth Top Fuel season. In another personal first, Brittany will take a 38-point (307-269) lead into zMAX Dragway over two-time/reigning Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown of Don Schumacher Racing.

“That was all John Force Racing. It had been in the works for a while,” said Brittany, whose first communications with Johnson were via email. “He wanted to get to know me better as a driver, wanted to know my routines, how I work…just everything involved that I do at home and what I bring to the racetrack. He sent me a list of questions and asked, ‘When you have the chance, can you answer these?’ I went through all the questions and probably gave him more than he needed to know.”

Brittany admitted that meeting Johnson face-to-face the first time actually was unnerving.  “I was definitely very intimidated just because I never really spoke to him at the racetrack,” Brittany said. “I didn’t really know much about him. I know what he’s done for the sport. I know what a big name he is in the sport and how much he’s accomplished, and it was definitely a little intimidating. But after a few emails and working with him in Phoenix and then in Pomona, he’s an awesome guy. I feel very lucky to be teamed up with him, working with him and I’m really glad with where we’re at.”

NHRA FOUR-WIDE NATIONALS FAST FACTS

FORMAT: Qualifying sessions and elimination rounds will be conducted using four lanes in all Mello Yello Series classes. Lanes will be identified from left to right facing downtrack as 1-4. The standard Friday qualifying procedure of a top 12 format will not be in use. Two Christmas trees will be in use, one between each two lanes. The Compulink Autostart system will continue to be utilized and it will not activate until all four vehicles are pre-staged and one vehicle has staged.

The ladder structure will feature Race A: qualifiers 1, 8, 9, 16; Race B: qualifiers 4, 5, 12, 13; Race C: qualifiers 2, 7, 10, 15 and Race D: qualifiers 3, 6, 11, 14. Race A and Race B will be on one side of the ladder, while Race C and Race D will be on the other.

 Lane-choice for eliminations goes to the driver with the quickest E.T., then the second-quickest and so on. The first two drivers in each elimination round to cross the finish line advance to the second round and final. In the final round, teams will finish in the order they cross the finish line (barring any red-light starts), with winner, runnerup and two semifinalists in that order.

TELEVISION: Fox Sports 1 (FS1) will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 10 p.m. (EDT), on Saturday. The network also will televise three hours of finals coverage at 4:30 p.m. (EDT), on Sunday.

 2015 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Jack Beckman, Funny Car; Larry Morgan, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.

 MOST VICTORIES: Antron Brown, 2, Top Fuel; Spencer Massey, 2, Top Fuel; Jack Beckman, 2, Funny Car; Robert Hight, 2, Funny Car; Greg Anderson, 2, Pro Stock; Mike Edwards, 2, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, 2, Pro Stock Motorcycle.

 TRACK RECORDS:            

Top Fuel _ 3.713-seconds by J.R. Todd, March ’15; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12.

Funny Car _ 3.971-seconds by Tommy Johnson Jr., Sept. ’15; 322.27 mph by Matt Hagan, Sept. ’11.

Pro Stock _ 6.455-seconds by Jason Line, March ’15; 215.48 mph by Greg Anderson, March ’15.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.794-seconds and 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15.

 NATIONAL RECORDS:    

Top Fuel _ 3.680-seconds by Antron Brown, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.

Funny Car _ 3.879-seconds by Jack Beckman, March ‘16, Gainesville, Fla.; 331.45 mph by Matt Hagan, Nov. ’15, Pomona, Calif.

Pro Stock _ 6.455-seconds by Jason Line, March ’15, Concord, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _6.728-second by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Concord, N.C.

              POINT STANDINGS: Following the fourth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _ 1.  Brittany Force, 307; 2.  Antron Brown, 269; 3.  Doug Kalitta, 267; 4.  Steve Torrence, 249; 5.  Clay Millican, 242; 6.  J.R. Todd, 229; 7.  Dave Connolly, 217; 8.  Terry McMillen, 209; 9.  Tony Schumacher, 190; 10.  Leah Pritchett, 188.

 Funny Car _ 1.  Robert Hight, 341; 2.  John Force, 294; 3.  Ron Capps, 289; 4.  Del Worsham, 283; 5.  Jack Beckman, 271; 6.  Courtney Force, 265; 7.  Chad Head, 236; 8.  Alexis DeJoria, 233; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 221; 10.  Matt Hagan, 150.

 Pro Stock _ 1.  Jason Line, 463; 2.  Greg Anderson, 415; 3.  Bo Butner, 331; 4.  Drew Skillman, 264; 5.  Chris McGaha, 214; 6.  Allen Johnson, 212; 7.  Jeg Coughlin Jr., 191; 8.  Vincent Nobile, 175; 9.  Erica Enders, 171; 10.  Alex Laughlin, 154.

 Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 129; 2.  Hector Arana, 99; 3.  Andrew Hines, 79; 4.  LE Tonglet, 74; 5.  Chip Ellis, 62; 6.  (tie) Michael Ray, 52; Jerry Savoie, 52; Jim Underdahl, 52; 9.  Angelle Sampey, 35; 10.  (tie) Scotty Pollacheck, 33. Melissa Surber, 33.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 21 2016
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